Introduction: As I've mentioned, our next Print Offer, which starts in less than two weeks, on October 30th, features some really fine and very recent Paris pictures by old friend Peter Turnley, from his marvelous new book French Kiss.
But an obvious question arose. Peter's been using a Leica M9 and an M Monochrom recently...and how does he get from there to the fine prints he's long been known for, and that so many of our readers have bought and enjoyed in the past?
So, I asked....
Mike: We're very much looking forward to your third TOP sale, just nine days from now, of several prints from your new book French Kiss. But one big question. How do you handle the mix of digital and traditional originals? You are known for the signed fine prints that Voja Mitrovic has made for you for many years. And any good printer is in part an artistic collaborator, not just a mechanic. Is Voja just out of the picture (no pun intended) when it comes to photographs you've made with the Leica M9 and M Monochrom?
Peter: Voja is still in the picture for all of my prints! The great news is that all of my Paris photographs, whether made by an analog or digital camera, are still printed as traditional silver gelatin prints by my friend Voja, who in my opinion is is one of the greatest black-and-white printers in the history of photography. Whether the photograph was made on film with a Leica M3, M4, M6, or M7, or made digitally by the Leica M8, M9 and M Monochrom digital cameras, they are all still printed by Voja Mitrovic as traditional silver-gelatin prints from a negative.
Mike: When you say "negative," what size negative?
Photo from French Kiss printed as a traditional gelatin-silver print from
a digital Leica M Monochrom original, using an internegative.
(This picture isn't part of our sale.)
Peter: We have taken the digital files and had 4x5-inch internegatives made, which Voja then prints traditionally on silver-gelatin fiber-base paper. I'm having an exhibition at the Leica Gallery in Salzberg, Austria starting on November 20th, and all 50 prints in the exhibit, covering a 40-year period of time, will be Voja's traditional silver gelatin prints.
Mike: And the obvious, if blunt, question...how good are they? Are they as good as prints made from in-camera negatives?
Peter: All I can say is that when I saw the silver prints made by Voja from these 4x5 internegatives from my original digital files, I was blown away. They are perfectly homogenous with the prints made from film. I've never seen these digital photographs look so beautiful on a computer screen.
For me, this new technique is life-changing. It allows me to finally have total continuity with the photography of my whole career, and to be proud of all of my signed prints for collection, whether they were made originally from film or by a digital camera.
Mike: I know that Voja doesn't print for anyone but a select handful of clients, but where do you get your digital-to-film internegatives made? And is this something that anyone can have done?
Peter: We use a terrific photography lab in Paris called Central DUPON Images. The process is called making a "shoot." That's what they call it in French—I don't know if there's an English equivalent, other than "internegative." We have spent time working with one their wonderful technicians calibrating a digital file with a standard set of curves so that when a 4x5 negative is made from a digital file, there is no excess gain in contrast or loss of detail.
Mike: Is there usually?
Peter: In general, the digital file that is projected onto a piece of 4x5 film has a bit less contrast than a digital file one would print from directly. We have studied this carefully and made many tests and arrived at a standard setting that enables us to have constant, excellent mid-tone values and levels of detail in the highlights and shadows in the 4x5 negative that the silver gelatin print is then made from.
Mike: And how about the "blackline"—will the digital prints have an integral black line around them like the prints from film? With 35mm it shows the film edge, but of course there's no equivalent in digital.
Peter: I grew up with the old traditions of great printing and have always used a black line around the edge of my prints, as did Henri, to indicate an uncropped print from a full negative. I also love the way the black line "closes" a print. So we also incorporate this black line—filet noir in French—on our digital files, in order to have it also in the 4x5 negative. For me it's a matter of consistency across my life's work.
Mike: And how widespread is this process that Central DUPON uses, do you know?
Peter: I'm sure that there are labs all over the world, and certainly in the U.S. that can make these internegatives, but I will say that the culture of attention to detail in the great Paris photography labs has always been outstanding.
Mike: Thanks Peter. Anything else you'd like to add?
Peter: I want to return to the most important point—the resulting silver prints made from these internegatives derived from digital files are undistinguishable from silver prints made straight from original negatives. Really sensational.
Mike: Thanks very much, Peter. I can't wait to see some examples.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Tony Roberts: "Salgado has been employing the same process."
Roger Bradbury: "After seeing the Leica video where you can see Peter Turnley and Voja Mitrovic examining a large negative (on the French Kiss book web page), I had already thought as much. It is fascinating to discover the details, though."
Ed: "Man, what a headache and endless hoops to jump through; just shoot film in the first place."
Peter Turnley replies: I'd like to respond to that because I realize that at first glance your comment makes sense but actually the reality is exactly the opposite. To "just shoot film in the first place" is not the easier answer with less headache. (I shot film for 35 years with great pleasure). Shooting film means spending money for every roll of film, money and time developing the film, making contact sheets, archiving them. Having problems carrying film through any airport security system. And, maybe most importantly, some of the new cameras like the Leica Monochrom offer the opportunity to make photographs with amazing tones in low light conditions with high enough shutter speeds with no camera or subject movement/blur, and one can actually make photographs of authentic spontaneous moments in very low light that one can't do with decent grain films like Tri-X. Digital files are very fine as well for magazine publications, online publications, and even book publications.
The making of an internegative from a digital file happens in my case only for photographs that are going to be exhibited or offered as signed collector prints. I will be having an upcoming exhibition in Salzburg, Austria of 50 photographs representing 40 years of photographs in Paris. Of all of this work only 20 of the photographs were made with a digital camera so only 20 internegatives were necessary to make. At the end of the day, this was not a headache or even a great expense compared to what shooting film these past two years would have represented. I know it is tempting to say that shooting film seems like less of a headache, but I actually don't think it is. And, I can't believe I am writing all of this, because I have been for so long in the camp of people that really love film. But, that is why this is all worth discussing now, because the combination of being able to work with an amazing, game-changing digital camera, and making internegatives to be able to make gelatin silver collector prints by a master printer—this all really represents progress.
Stan B.: "There are now a variety of 'hybrid' solutions available, each negotiable to the particular shooter's needs and finances. Inkjet prints from silver neg scans can be downright spectacular when properly executed. It's a helluva lotta work in post, but well worth it when you get that big (up to 27in from 35mm), beautiful print that I would have felled an entire old growth forest to achieve in the darkroom. I've seen B&W digital work that has taken my breath away, and stuff that looks plastic, sterile and 'artificial.' I guess it's mostly determined in post, and what particular combination (of thousands) one uses. Shooting film makes sense financially if you don't shoot as often as pros are likely to. No doubt Mr. Turnley's results represent the zenith of what is currently possible."
Wayne Pearson: "I really do not care how Peter makes his images, whether they are film, digital, use internegatives, or not. His images are wonderful. That is all that matters, are the images good or not. His are. Thank you for sharing his work and the occasional interview on this site."